Tuesday, 16 December 2008

[99] Phonogram: The Singles Club #1

Even though I've kept up with buying single issues in the last few weeks, I've not written about any of them. I was going to write a digest about recent reading, but I got carried away on the first comic. Suddenly, it's late, so I'll post it solo. More later.


Phonogram: The Singles Club #1 (Pull Shapes)

I haven't read anything by Kieron Gillen before, and likewise didn't know about the first series of Phonogram. I only picked up this first issue of the second series, Pull Shapes, after a recommendation from Dom at London Loves Comics. I've spoken to him before about the lack of engrossing back matter in most of the single issues I pick up, so his description of the varied material in Phonogram was enough to lure me in. Inside the (beautifully designed) cover lies a 17-page main story, as well as two shorter 'b-side' stories and a back-cover teaser; in terms of written back matter, there is also a column by Gillen, an 'annotations' section (detailing the disparate musical references in the comic) and a letters page.

Ok, I understand that I am perhaps quite alone in the sense that this mixture of material was enough to make me curious. Luckily, the comic itself is spunky and distinctive. The main story, written by Gillen and illustrated by Jamie McKelvie, is a short piece about a girl, called Penny, who just loves to dance, and her infectious enthusiasm casts a spell on those around her. Penny makes her way to the Never On a Sunday club-night, which will be the repeated location for the rest of the Phonogram series. In fact, all of the main stories will link up to create a larger narrative. On the issue-by-issue level, though, these are merely snapshots, and Pull Shapes, about Penny hoping that the DJ would play her favourite song, is effective and lovely. Gillen has an ear for quirky, but character-building dialogue, and McKelvie's beautiful, bold artwork helps to keep the proceedings colourful and memorable. For a strip so focused on the act of dancing, McKelvie manages to communicate the motion of pop-song abandon really well.

The world that Gillen creates, where there are 'Phonomancers', whose magical powers come from music, or dancing, is not fully fleshed out or explored here. Instead, this issue is more about the joy of revelling in music. This passion drips off the page, from the constant references in dialogue to the posters in the background. I understand that such a style is not for everyone, and there are those who would balk at a comic's narrative hinge being 'I want to dance to The Pipettes in a club' (guns and bullets are much more interesting), but Phonogram manages to be cheeky and charming. The b-side stories also offer something different, with guest artists contributing their own distinct styles. The first, longer b-side, called 'She Who Bleeds For Your Entertainment', is an intelligently metaphorical look at the woman-as-victim in the musical world. It's practically a piece of music journalism, in the form of an occult-inspired comic. The second is a bite-sized bit of confectionery about Huey Lewis' mid-80s hit single 'The Power of Love'.

Speaking as a lapsed music writer, failed gig promoter, and false-start radio DJ, Gillen managed to quell my knee-jerk cynicism. Phonogram: The Singles Club manages to speak about a certain kind of music, and tap into what makes listening to it so enjoyable. It also side-steps the cries of preciousness, pretension and elitism with the inclusion of the 'annotations' column, which seeks to enlighten the reader, and spread the love. Fine, I'm hooked. I'll be making a special trip for the next issue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you should check out the original Phonogram series too. It's been collected